How Did We Get To Metro? (Part 3)

10/25/2012 9:17:36 AM

The last notable release of 1985 was the Graphical Environment Manager, also known as GEM. It was originally designed for use with the CP/M OS on the Motorola 68000 CPUs, but it was altered to run on DOS and the newly released Atari ST at that time.

GEM made the Atari ST famous for being the first personal computer that ran a full color, bit-mapped GUI. Unfortunately, it also became famous for being sued by Apple over the look and feel of GEM, as it seemed to be an almost direct copy of Mac OS. Indeed, when you look at the screenshots, you have to agree it does bear a striking resemblance.

Description: A The GEM GUI. Or is it Mac? Hmmm, no wonder they sued.
The GEM GUI or is it Mac? Hmmm, no wonder they sued

The GUI itself didn't add anything extraordinary to the evolution in its early days; it took a few years and the release of GEM/5, the underlying GUI for GST Publisher, before something cool appeared: 3D Controls!


Over the next few years, the GUI became more complex, offering color by default, overlapping windows in Windows 2.0, improved speed with OS/2.1 but the real eye-candy, and the GUI that shaped the modern OS X, Vista, KDE and everything else was NeXTSTEP 1.0.

Description: Wow, the NeXTSTEP GUI looked awesome
Wow, the NeXTSTEP GUI looked awesome

NeXTSTEP featured big icons, multi-colored windows, 3D objects, a start/quick launch bar, shadow effects and did we mention it was the brainchild of Steve Jobs? No? Well, apparently the late Mr. Jobs left Apple and took with him a handful of Apple employees to create a utopian research computer for universities, colleges and labs. After pumping many millions into the project, the team eventually came up with the NeXT Cube, along with the OS NeXTSTEP. Apple wasn't overly happy at first, what with Jobs nabbing its devas, but an agreement was eventually reached and over the next few years NeXTSTEP evolved with Apple buying the lot in 1997 for $429 million, which it went on to use as the basis for OS X.

The next two Decades

Over the next 20 years we saw many variations of the same theme: Windows 3 to Windows 95 to XP to Vista; OS/2 to OS/2 Warp; Mac OS System 7 to 8 to OS X to OS X Lion; KDE 1 to 4; and Gnome 1 to Gnome 2.24. However, the biggest change to the GUI market, and the one that inevitably led to the creation of Metro, with its touchscreen abilities, tiles and sliding desktop, has to be the release of both iOS and Android.

iOS and Android

Both of these GUIs are designed as mobile operating systems, one being Apple's closed source model, the other being Linux powered and open source. Both are backed financially by the two biggest companies ever and both do pretty much the same thing.

Description: And now we have Windows 8 and Metro. It's not that bad really
And now we have Windows 8 and Metro. It's not that bad really

Having been designed for users to paw at the screen, a new looks needed to be incorporated. Those with massive sausage like fingers would never be able to launch menus or resize windows, so obviously the developers came up with large icons and tiles. The desktop also needed work: to touch an icon it needed to be big enough to be seen, so more space was required, hence the swipe to the left or right for more desktop space. Finally, the new GUIs needed to be quick; after all you don't want to wait ages for an app to load on the phone. This led to a much more streamlined underlying OS, better suited for the modern mobile CPU.


Now we have Windows 8 and Metro, with tiles, a sliding desktop and increased speed. Will it be successful? Will it kill Microsoft? Will it herald a new era of GUI? Who knows, but an educated guess (based on what's happened in the past) says that it will work, and although some users will bemoan its very existence, they'll keep on going. At least until the next big GUI change.



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